Sep 30, 2020
Training Outside the Box
Mike Shibinski, MA, CSCS, Strength & Conditioning Coach at Mt. St. Joseph University

In 1963 the NFL’s first weight room appeared at the pre-season training camp of the San Diego Chargers. Always looking to stay ahead of the competition, head coach Sid Gillman brought in Alvin Roy from LSU to direct the Chargers strength-training program. His first weight room was set up outside, on the practice field – not in an indoor air-conditioned room. The Chargers would go on to become AFL Champions at year’s end.

Up until this time in NFL history no other team had an organized strength training program for its team members. On each team, there would be a few players who would do some weight lifting on their own during the off-season at the local YMCA, bodybuilding gym, or maybe in his basement. But once the season started most would abandon their program and concentrate just on traditional football training. 

Photo: USAG Livorno PAO / Creative Commons

Since this time numerous players, all the NFL teams, colleges, and even high schools have seen the benefits of a well-organized, year-round strength training program for its players and teams. 

Players and teams have used various strength training devices – barbells, dumbbells, Universal Gym machine, Nautilus machines, Hammer Strength machines, Exer-Genie, have all been used with great success to build strength and muscle.

Vince Lombardi was one of the first NFL coaches to utilize a small, compact training device called the Exer-genie during the 1965 season. Tom Laundry soon followed suit and the Dallas Cowboys were training with this great machine that did all kinds of resistance exercises. They trained outdoors.

In 1969 the Pittsburgh Steelers hired Chuck Noll. During the early 1960s, Coach Noll was on the Chargers staff under Gillman as a defensive line coach.  He brought onto his Steelers coaching staff as his strength coach Lou Riecke. Riecke trained under Alvin Roy. Coach Riecke developed his own versatile multi-power rack station that the Steelers used at training camp and during their in-season training program. The Steelers had eight of these stations installed at their St. Vincent College outside.

In 1976 Tom Laundry hired Bob Ward, as the Cowboys new strength coach when Alvin Roy left the Cowboys for the Kansas City Chiefs. When Ward arrived in Dallas, the Cowboys weight room was still an open-air training area outside. Eventually, the Cowboys put a roof over Ward’s training area when the Cowboys moved into their new practice facility at Valley Ranch. 

Individual players have also endorsed various types of training equipment:

  • Herschel Walker used bodyweight exercises and chin-ups to build a world-class physique for football, track, bobsledding, and MMA fighting.
  • Drew Brees uses TRX.
  • Tom Brady uses TB12 and Pliability.
  • Anthony Munoz rebuilt his knees on Nautilus machines.
  • James Harrison liked to train with barbells and dumbbells.

Legendary Penn State, Washington Professional Football Team, and Houston Texans strength coach Dan Riley developed a system of using a lifting partner to apply resistance to another partner instead of a barbell or machine and called it Manual Resistance.  Riley used manual resistance plus some outdoor dip and chin-up stations to train both his Penn State and Redskins teams outdoors once a week. I too have personally used this type of training throughout my strength coaching career with great success.

Fast-forward 50 years to today’s athletes and teams; most are doing some type of strength training. Even sports like baseball and basketball, where lifting weights was a major taboo, now incorporate some type of strength training program. MLB teams all have outstanding training facilities at both their winter headquarters as well as their home stadiums, as do most NBA teams.

NFL, college, and high schools all spend thousands of dollars on building and upgrading weight rooms each season. The “Box” (as the weight room is called in CrossFit circles) has come full circle. Where there were once a few barbells sitting outside on the practice field there are now thousands of feet dedicated to building bigger, stronger, and faster athletes.

But what can you do if your program, school, or team has no dedicated weight room space, your weight room is too small, or you feel you do not have enough time in your schedule, you feel like you lack sufficient equipment for you to train your team with, or if you cannot schedule your team into your weight room because there are so many teams wanting to use the facility?  

Once again you have to think outside the “Box!”

As noted earlier, I have successfully used manual resistance strength training throughout my coaching career. The biggest advantage of manual resistance is that no typical barbell, dumbbell, strength training machine is needed – just good coaching. But I have and do use other tools to supplement our manual resistance program. I supplement our manual resistance training with simple and inexpensive training tools like dip and chin-up racks, thick ropes, large 5-gallon plastic water buckets, PVC pipes, rubber bands of various thickness, TRX bands, large tractor tires.  These are all tools that will work to build muscle and strength. To get stronger and build muscle you need two things: One – you need some type of resistance. You can get strong by lifting a barbell, using strength machines, manual resistance, lifting rocks or buckets filled with water, sand, rocks, etc. Two – you need to overload the muscles being trained. Overload means doing more work today than you did the last time you trained. This could be done by doing more reps, sets, cutting down on your rest time between a set, or by increasing the intensity of the exercise with more effort. Your muscles do not know what they are lifting – a bar, a resistance machine, etc. – only that it has to lift something heavy.  They all work – if you do!

» ALSO SEE: Guide To Maximizing Battle Ropes

By thinking outside the “Box” like this you can strength train your teams anywhere and everywhere around your athletic complex or even if you are on the road traveling. You can train teams in the weight room, outside the weight room, on the basketball court, on the pool deck, tennis courts, and baseball diamonds. 

Another plus is that you can train athletes who have an injury and cannot hold a barbell or dumbbell. Simply by using manual resistance or a simple training tool the athlete can still strength train to stay strong.


  1. Neck Training
  2. Side Lateral Raise
  3. Rear Deltoid
  4. Hip Adduction
  5. Hip Abduction
  6. Front Raise
  7. Push-ups
  8. Bicep Curls
  9. Triceps Extension
  1. Dips
  2. Chin-Ups
  3. Pull-Ups
  4. Push-Ups
  5. Leg Raise
  1. Bicep Curls
  2. Squat
  3. Squat & Shoulder Press
  4. Front Lunge
  5. Side Lunge
  6. Shoulder Press
  7. Upright Row
  8. Front Raise
  9. Iso-Holds — Front
  10. Hay Baler
  1. Bicep Curls
  2. Triceps Extension
  3. Shoulder Press
  4. Front Raise
  5. Upright Row
  6. Single Arm Row
  7. Bench Press
  8. Incline Bench Press
  9. Bent-Over Row
  1. Biceps Curls
  2. Triceps Extension
  3. High-Back Row
  4. Mid-Back Row
  5. Low-Back Row
  6. Upright Row
  7. Shoulder Adduction
  8. Shoulder ITYs
  9. Shoulder Ws
  10. Lat Pull-Downs
  11. Shoulder Pull Apart
  12. Shoulder Abduction
  1. Biceps Curls
  2. Triceps Extension
  3. Chest Pushups
  4. Chest Flies
  5. Abdominal Pulls
  6. Single-Leg Squat
  7. Shoulder ITYs
  8. Shoulder Ws
  9. Shoulder Pull Apart
  1. Tire Flips
  2. Man Push
  3. Incline Push-Ups
  4. Decline Push-Ups
  5. Power Jumps
  6. Sledge Hammer Hits


  1. Brady, Tom, The TB12 Method, Simon and Schuster, 2017
  2. Brzycki, Matt, A Practical Approach to Strength Training, 4th Edition, Versa Press, 2012
  3. Riley, Daniel, Strength Training for Football: The Penn State Way, 2nd Edition, Leisure Press, 1978
  4. Riley, Daniel, Strength Training By The Experts, 2nd Edition, Leisure Press, 1982
  5. Riley, Daniel, Maximum Muscular Fitness: Strength Training Without Equipment, Leisure Press, 1982
  6. Dawes, Jay, Complete Guide to TRX Suspension Training, Human Kinetics, 2017

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